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Review — Stephen Malkmus, “Real Emotional Trash”

February 20, 2008

Review — Stephen Malkmus, “Real Emotional Trash”

By John Wilmes – KRUI Assistant Music Director

Generally considered the leader of indie rock institution Pavement, Stephen Malkmus has never been able to match that band’s virility in his solo career, with or without “the Jicks,” and regardless of who’s participating in said Jicks. Pavement was an extraordinary band that consistently delivered a punch twice that of any 6+ minute Jick song in usually less than 4. Malkmus’ newest album, with the Jicks, provides no exception to the trend.

“Real Emotional Trash” comes out on March 4th and will be in KRUI rotation within a week. This version of The Jicks is tweaked most significantly in that it includes drummer Janet Weiss (who appeared last year on Bright Eyes’ “Cassadaga”), of the now defunct Sleater Kinney, an indie rock institution in its own right (no all-female band has rocked so hard). Her chops are considerable, as are those of The Jicks and Malkmus in general, and they certainly miss no opportunity to exhibit them in this jam-heavy affair. The rock-outs here are sometimes quite sublimely rowdy ( “Hopscotch Wilie,” “Baltimore”), but too often sloppy, meandering, and unlyrical (“Dragonfly Pie,” “Real Emotional Trash”). This band falls prey often to the same aimlessness plaguing the quality of the lion’s share of Jam Bands.

As a songwriter on RET, Malkmus uses text either too self-involved or empty to extract any meaning from. This is, of course, a moot point if Malkmus isn’t looking for meaning, but only executing some mildly clever and very goofy wordplay, drenched in his trademark sarcasm which worked as a subtle bonus in Pavement’s songs but now as an unfortunate crutch to many of his songs. If Malkmus indeed isn’t looking for meaning, kudos to him for having created another entertaining exercise in postmodern rock (much to the reviewer’s chagrin).

RET is not without highlights, though. Malkmus is still a fiend on the lead guitar, sounding here much like a piss-soaked Clapton (which I mean in the best way possible). His finagling on “Hopscotch Willie” and “Baltimore” is top notch, as is Weiss’ range of beat keeping. “We Can’t Help You,” “Out of Reaches,” and “Gardenia” are the most tightly structured, accessible tunes here, and (seemingly) offer some refreshingly sincere songwriting.

Overall: throw it into the same pile as all of Malkmus’ solo albums. A lot of talent but only a few great tracks amongst too much (strange) self-indulgence. On name fame alone, you’ll be hearing this one on our airwaves or elsewhere.

JW’s Stephen Malkmus playlist:

w/ Pavement:

  • Summer Babe (Slanted and Enchanted)
  • Zurich is Stained (Slanted and Enchanted)
  • Loretta’s Scars (Slanted and Enchanted)
  • Here (Slanted and Enchanted)
  • Two States (Slanted and Enchanted)
  • Silence Kit (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
  • Elevate Me Later (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
  • Stop Breathin’ (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
  • Range Life (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
  • Strings of Nashville [Instrumental] (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain Outtake)
  • Bad Version of War (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain Outtake)
  • Transport is Arranged (Brighten the Corners)

w/ Jicks/solo

  • Vanessa from Queens (Pig Lib)
  • Sheets (Pig Lib)
  • Baby C’mon (Face the Truth)
(John Wilmes, February 20, 2008)

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